Work-Life Balance

Ballard Mainstay Sawyer Will Say Farewell in October

This is shaping up to be a rough year for choco taco fans.

By Allecia Vermillion September 12, 2022

One more round of monkey bread, please.

Sawyer—a restaurant that makes fun food elevated and elevated food fun—will soon turn off the lights for good. Chef and owner Mitch Mayers says the large, handsome restaurant just off Ballard Avenue will serve its final brunch and dinner October 2.

In short, long days away from his two young kids no longer feels tenable, says Mayers. “Most days I wake up feeling like I have to choose between being the father I want to be and the business owner that Sawyer needs me to be.”

He wishes leaving his job didn’t necessitate closing a business—quiet quitting isn't a thing for chefs. “I kept telling myself that, if I worked a little bit harder for a little bit longer, everything would eventually get easier,” he says. “I just realized—because of who I am, and how I operate in the world—and the nature of the restaurant industry that that was not going to happen. And my kids’ lives are happening now.”

It's sad to lose any destination that people love, not to mention one that landed easily on Seattle Met’s 100 Best Restaurants list. But Sawyer displayed an unusual ability to be playful without being cheesy, and to exude ambition without excluding people who don’t enjoy their dinners served with sauce swoops and high concepts. The kitchen could put out an impeccable wood-fired artichoke, then follow it up with a pretzel pain d’epi and a dipper of ‘nduja queso. I don’t think I’ve recommended any other restaurant to readers or visiting acquaintances more frequently. The brunch menu’s cinnamon roll monkey bread regularly impressed picky eaters, insufferable food snobs, and visiting moms.

None of this is an accident. Mayers previously headed up John Sundstrom’s kitchen at Lark and grew up working his family’s concession stands at the state fair. He also earned a degree from Cornell University’s school of hotel management and spent two years working at the supremely accessible Hillstone chain for the express purpose of absorbing its philosophies around hospitality.

Recently, Mayers’s family relocated out near Woodinville for a bit more mental and physical space. As for what’s next, “I have no freaking clue.” He anticipates a very long break to regroup and hang out with his family. "I doubt I’m leaving the industry,” he says. Mayers’s family is still involved in fair concessions.

When Sawyer opened, leaning into the whole “carnival food made cheffy” narrative was easy. But Sawyer was so much more than a novelty. Though...speaking of novelties. Mayers never imagined an upgraded take on a novelty ice cream treat would become his calling card. The s’more-inspired choco taco has been on Sawyer’s menu since the restaurant opened in 2018, one of the most ferociously enjoyed desserts in town (the dilly bar deserved way more attention).

I first met Mayers before his restaurant had an official name, when he was a promising chef from Lark re-vamping a former sawmill, undoing the unfortunate layout from an equally unfortunate previous occupant. Back then, he says, he was gripped with fear that his restaurant wouldn’t make it a month. Four years later, “I still look out into the dining room in awe of what we created.”

Fortunately he also gave the rest of us a few more weeks to look upon it one last time.

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